Assessment is a tricky thing. There are many different ways of doing it: some good, some bad and some just plain lazy. Whilst there is no definitive answer to the question ‘does assessment work’, there is certainly a truth that only well designed assessments work.
My observation would be that, all to often, learning is built to template designs and that these templates have a space at the end for an assessment. Frequently this is the ubiquitous ‘multi choice’ test. Whilst this is a perfectly good format for assessing straight knowledge, it’s not always just knowledge that we want to assess. The application of knowledge and skills is key. Understanding and observing changed behaviours and decision making ability, understanding the underlying reasoning and justification for decisions made, understanding how learners have revised their worldview and developed abilities as a result of the training: that’s what we are aiming for.
It’s possible to significantly strengthen the rigour and depth of assessment by following trails of logic. Getting people to make decisions, asking them to justify and explain the reasoning behind those decisions, giving them contextual feedback dependent upon what that decision was and clearly indicating what we think they could do differently. This methodology supports more scenario based assessment: the creation of realistic encounters and scenarios where people apply knowledge and skills and get feedback dependent upon their decisions.
It’s a misguided assumption that assessment ‘makes people learn’. It doesn’t. It just trains them to be good at efficiently passing multi choice assessments. A better path is to aim for engagement. Capture the learners curiosity and desire to explore. Incorporate reasoning and decision making. Make it interesting and the learning will follow.